More Health:

June 16, 2023

Fathers make a big difference by being engaged in their kids' lives – the science shows it

Research shows positive involvement is critical to ensuring children have healthy social and emotional outcomes

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Fatherhood Health Benefits Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Research shows that a father's involvement is critical to the social, emotional and academic outcomes of his children.

Father's Day is nearly here and, appropriately, my message extends beyond my 50-plus men to all the dads, grandads, stepdads, uncles, foster fathers, Big Brothers and other male father figures out there. Happy Father's Day! It is a day laced with meaning and gratitude for the contributions you make, and a time to reflect on the significance of fatherhood no matter what form it takes in today's multitude of family configurations.

Contemporary culture and advertisers will push us to focus on finding the right gift or getting a dinner reservation at dad's favorite restaurant, but the day deserves much deeper consideration. A closer look at fatherhood reveals that it offers men a precious opportunity to impact future generations and, in doing so, improve their own health and well-being. 

It's a win-win proposition grounded in the science and, more importantly, present in the eyes of our children and grandchildren. So, on this occasion where we tip our hats to the men of influence, let's review this thing we call fatherhood and consider the dimensions that make it special.

Father figures make a difference

According to the Journal of School Nursing, "positive father involvement is critical to the healthy social, emotional and academic outcomes of children at all stages of development." Researchers at the University of Florida reinforce this point, telling us that, no matter one's marital status, maintaining a close attachment and an active presence in a child's life can convey benefits to the child. And the newsletter PsychCentral notes that a loving and responsive father has a lifelong positive impact on children, extending to both their physical and mental health.

Considering these benefits, it is important to present the evidence that men have a variety of opportunities to make a meaningful impact on the lives of children, whether they are in a traditional marriage or some other relationship that brings children into their lives. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison reminds us that family structures and definitions of fatherhood have changed over recent decades, with many men fulfilling fatherly roles without legal recognition. The University explains that today's family structures include traditional marriage, cohabitation, recombined and single-parent families. Within this context, men can serve as stepfathers with legal or simply social status. Researchers cite "The Involved Fatherhood Model" as a dominant framework among those who study fatherhood. It includes three core elements: positive engagement, accessibility and taking responsibility.

Extending the conversation is Emma Waters. Writing for the Institute for Family Studies, she describes how uncles can fill the gap when a biological father may not be in a child's life. Waters says that such uncles "may provide a surrogate sense of validation, support and guidance." With growing numbers of children living in single-parent households, Waters believes that uncles can play a significant role in the identity formation and development of children.

The health benefits of fatherhood

The science is clear. When dads – no matter their official or unofficial titles – are engaged in their children's lives, that involvement translates into a lifetime of benefits. But what about the dads? Yes, there is the immediate enjoyment of time spent with children (at any age), but what does the science say about the longer-term physical and mental benefits of fatherhood?

Well, last Father's Day, I tackled just that question. The answer is worth repeating: fatherhood is good for a man's health. It can have positive impacts on physical and psychological health, with research showing a positive effect on heart attack survival, cognitive decline, depression and anxiety. These benefits extend to grandfathers, too. 

My column from last year details my own father-son and grandfather-grandson memories – and how they've influenced my life. They are sure to trigger recollections of other people's experiences. 

Fatherhood represents the ultimate "why" for maintaining your health. Behaviors that result in good health form a bridge to "being there" and being able to carry out the components of the Involved Fatherhood Model.

Time to change

In my last column, which highlighted June as Men's Health Month, I offered one of my tough-love rants about the declining state of men's health, pleading for men (of all ages) and their loved ones to work to reverse the troubling trends. 

On this Father's Day, while ringing the bell for action on healthy behavior, I also want to point to evidence that men can – and have – demonstrated the ability to serve as loving and caring fathers — the first step in strengthening the motivation to live a positive lifestyle.

That ability was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the experts at Harvard University chronicled, nearly 70% of fathers across a diversified mix of dads reported that they felt closer to their children during the early months of the pandemic. About 57% had greater appreciation for their children, 54% were paying more attention to their children's feelings, and 51% were doing more activities with their children based on the child's interest. 

The question emerging from this experience is whether the COVID-driven sense of closeness can be sustained post-pandemic? By next Father's Day and Men's Health Month, will there have been any movement in the needle of men's health measures? Fatherhood is a big part of the answer.

The children are our future

It is a common belief that children will shape the future of our country and indeed our world. It is a bit ironic, but nevertheless true, that these same children can inspire men to live healthy and get the most out of life. Their power to motivate and maintain the inspiration is literally a lifetime phenomenon that can extend to the wonders of father-child relationships with grown children and, of course, grandchildren.

This Father's Day, no matter how, why or in what capacity you celebrate, enjoy the day, and take in all that it means for you and the people you love. At the same time, consider your future, and the prospect of many Father's Days to come. Yes, the children are our future. To get the most from that future with them, do what you can to ensure that you'll maximize these opportunities for years to come. My friends, have a happy and healthy Father's Day. 

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

Follow us

Health Videos